China “Slaps Ma in the Face”

Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) reacted to the emergence of an alleged confidential World Health Organization (WHO) document or memorandum which would belittle or dwarf ( 矮化, ǎi huà) Taiwan, as it refers to the republic as a “Chinese province” (中國台灣省). On a press conference at the presidential office on Tuesday afternoon (local time), Ma said that the WHO had clearly been under Chinese pressure (顯然受制於中共的壓力). He had asked the ministry of foreign affairs (MOFA) to lodge a protest with the WHO: “My country cannot accept this kind of unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory (不一; discriminatory may be too strong a translation, you might also try not uniform) approach”. The MOFA had been instructed to protest against any further belittlement of that kind without delay, said Ma.

Addressing China, he pointed out that in his 2008 inaugural speech, he had said that Taiwan wanted security, prosperity, but also dignity, and that only if Taiwan wasn’t being isolated [further] within the international community, cross-strait relations could develop steadily (2008年就職演說當中曾明白指出,台灣要安全、要繁榮、更要尊嚴,唯有台灣在國際社會不被繼續孤立,兩岸關係才能穩健發展). The efforts, and some achievements, of the past three years, should be cherished, further trust needed to be built, and the current move to hurt the feelings of the Taiwanese people was “extremely unfavorable” (用這種方式來傷害台灣人民的感情,對兩岸都是極為不利), said Ma.

The WHO document reportedly instructs the organization’s officials to refer to Taiwan as Taiwan Province of China if the issue arises. The revelation comes at a sensitive time for Ma as his administration prepares to send its third delegation to the annual WHA (World Health Assembly) meeting next Monday, writes the Taipei Times. The Taiwanese delegation was to take part in the assembly under the name of “Chinese Taipei”, which is a label frequently used by Taiwan when involved internationally, including sports events.

The Taipei Times article of Tuesday quotes several statements from the oppositional Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which suggest that Ma’s policy of improving ties with China had failed:

“What this shows is that Taiwan’s official designation at the WHO is as a province of China and nothing else. All these other names are a sham,” said DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲), who released the memo to the media.

DPP chairwoman and presidential nominee Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is quoted as saying that

“If this becomes Taiwan’s method of participating in international organizations, it will have a deep impact on our country’s global position and international space.”

A DPP statement called the news a “slap in the face” for the Ma administration, according to the Taipei Times.

Legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for January 14, 2012. So far, Ma reportedly has a reputation of being “able to talk to China” – but the question is now emerging if China would also listen when Ma speaks. Even without the apparent blow the WHO document will deal him, perceptions were  growing that Ma’s economic policies, including a cross-strait pact on free trade signed last June, benefit large corporations more than ordinary folk, the Economist suggested late in April.

Ma feels the heat – after addressing the WHO and China at Tuesday’s press conference, he attacked the DPP: in the eight years it had ruled [from 2000 to 2008],

what have you achieved for Taiwan, on the international stage? Internationally, we went nowhere [during your rule] (在 国际 舞台 为 台湾 争取 到 什么? 民进党 执政” 我们 在 国际 上 走不出 去”).

While Taiwan had  indeed been referred to as Chinese Taipei (中國,台灣) in 2005, but contacts never exceeded a directorial level. Taiwan had been referred to either as Taipei or as  中華台北 (zhōnghuá táiběi – zhonghua is more acceptable to many Taiwanese than zhongguo, as the latter term invokes the PR China rather than Chinese nationality more generally), and the number of countries and territories which had granted Taiwanese citizens visa-free entry had grown by sixty, to 113 countries, during his presidency. Ma:

I’d like to ask everyone: which political party has done better in safeguarding our sovereignty and dignity? (我 要 请问 大家, 哪 一个 政党 对于 维护 主权, 维护 尊严 做 的 更好?)

The president urged for unity (團結, tuánjié) and pragmatism (但一定要用務實有效方法). No slogans should be used to anaesthetize the people (麻醉人民, mázuì rénmín).

Ma has probably scored at least some points in Europe – the European Parliament is set to pass a resolution on Wednesday (May 11) that would support Taiwan’s participation in major international organizations – and it will reportedly mention the 15 Taiwan-China agreements signed in the past three years to promote bilateral rapprochement and engagement (including ECFA) favorably.

But the European Parliament had been Taiwan-friendly before. In 2004, then president Chen Shui-bian (DPP) had been invited to speak there, and it was apparently resistance from national governments, prompted by fear of China’s anger, which limited the speech to a video-linked occasion.

Beijing certainly wants “improved relations” with Taiwan, too – but at its own terms, rather than at Ma Ying-jeou’s.

6 Responses to “China “Slaps Ma in the Face””

  1. This is where I’ve always had some sympathy for Ma. The DPP genuinely didn’t go anywhere internationally under the Chen administration, and Ma has been able to make some small changes, overall for the better. This kind of things shows, as if there were any genuine reason for doubt, that the true source of the cross-strait dispute is the CCP dictatorship.

    Of course, if you flip over to Michael Turton’s blog, you see the same old tired claims with no supporting evidence being made about how the KMT are getting ready for a sell-out of Taiwan, as if giving up whatever power they have to the CCP is what they truly want. It’s bizarre, paranoid stuff.


  2. This is where I’ve always had some sympathy for Ma

    Me too. That said, I view him as a figurehead of the KMT-big-money connection in Taiwan. As far as I can see, he protected Lee Teng-hui from prosecution after taking power (the guy probably knew too much about the inside workings of the KMT to be questioned in court), and threw Chen to what is quite probably arbitrary “justice”.

    When it comes to the need to actually defend Taiwan, the KMT will be at least as staunch as the green camp. In my view, too many greens confuse the concept of sovereignty and concepts of civil rights. Civil rights are a domestic issue. Sovereignty is something that needs to be defended by diplomatic, and possibly military means. As the green camps views China as a foreign country, they should find it easier to see the difference, than the KMT, actually.

    All that said, I don’t think that Turton’s blog would be paranoid. It’s stubborn, in my view, and often dogmatic, and I wouldn’t expect much from a discussion with Turton. But I can still take into account what he writes, and think about it. It’s not useless.
    I haven’t had an encounter with him yet where he would delete comments of mine – probably because I haven’t tried to “engage” him, or to get involved. It’s more or less for the same reason that I haven’t tried to discuss issues on “Hidden Harmonies”. But I do read Turton’s blog, because the way he thinks is either original, or at least it can puzzle me, and provoke thoughts.



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